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Overcoming Trauma and Depression With Therapy, Journaling and Self-Care

“When my post-traumatic stress (PTS) started to develop, I felt something that I’d never felt before in my life. I started having vivid nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks that were constantly bringing back the trauma.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello! My name is Natalia Nieves. I live in my hometown Palm Bay, FL, I grew up in Cocoa, FL. I graduated from high school in May 2023. Graduating from high school was my greatest achievement.

Right now I am doing a gap year, taking a break from education until I know exactly where I want to be. I am single, I wanna work on myself before I get into a relationship. My passions are writing, marine life, mental health, and self-care. 

Throughout the years, I have been discovering new things about myself through my mental health journey. I have always been the kind of child with a good heart. I grew up with my mom, who is my number one role model, and two younger siblings.

My childhood without my father was a struggle for me, I was four years old when I left my father. I didn’t understand the horrible things that he did and how he was emotionally and medically neglectful and what he did wasn’t okay. 

I have never been this happy in a long time. 2023 has shown me how “time heals everything”- Luke Combs. Every day I learn more about myself, my past experiences made me who I am today. 

This is something that took me a long time to realize that I am worthy. I am proud to see how things that we go through are lessons and guidance. Seeing how they are tests that challenge us to decide whether or not we choose to take the path towards something good.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I experienced childhood sexual abuse in March 2019 (which was a one-time occurrence) when I was still in middle school and then in May 2021, I developed PTSD from that experience.

In May 2019, I started to suffer from depression that had nothing to do with the abuse. I remember the day when my depression was developing, I was sitting in my classroom and just didn’t care what was happening around me.

As my Sophomore year was coming to an end, I started to develop constant flashbacks, nightmares about the event, and severe anxiety causing shortness of breath, uncontrolled tremors, hypervigilance, and anxiety attacks from the traumatic event.

What was scary was my pulse would race and chest tightened when anxiety attacks would constantly come from post-traumatic stress. Along with PTSD, I suffered with trauma bond for two years.

In 2020, I started to suffer with social anxiety disorder after returning to school from the pandemic. Feeling isolated and losing confidence in myself made it really difficult for me to make new friends.

I was all alone wanting to hide by the wall. My closest friends didn’t return to school after covid-19, I was lonely and so anxious that I would cover my face with my hair. I was bullied in middle school which went on for a few years. 

In 2021, I also developed generalized anxiety disorder when my PTSD was beginning to show symptoms, and weeks later I decided to tell my story to a high school counselor, which felt like one of the most terrifying moments of my life

I then got help recently after speaking out about the sexual abuse from seeing a counselor on a weekly basis. I was vulnerable as I opened up about my experiences, being educated on why I was feeling ashamed, guilty, and betrayed by my perpetrator and learning how to not let it control me.

I found out from my most recent counselor that I have an anxious preoccupied attachment that I feel like I have been dealing with for as long as I can remember.

I get attached to others easily and fear rejection and abandonment, I am afraid of being hurt and betrayed by anyone new that comes into my life. I still struggle with trust issues from my past experiences, I fear that whoever I let in will let me down.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

After the abuse happened, I didn’t realize or understand it was abuse. So instead, I felt like I bonded with my perpetrator and decided to get in contact.

We would text each other through Facebook Messenger and I craved the attention that my abuser gave me, there were highs and lows at times as most messages involved emotional abuse, but there were also conversations that were comforting. 

When we lost touch, I showed signs of depression. When I developed depression, it was like my heart was shattered into pieces. I lost the kind of relationship that I thought I had and felt like I did something wrong. 

When I realized that I experienced sexual abuse as a teenager, I didn’t know what to do. I started having vivid flashbacks from the event that made me feel afraid to tell anyone.

I feared telling the truth to someone, but I had to get it out when I didn’t know what else to do. I craved the cycle of abuse from the trauma bond I was psychologically trapped in and feared what would happen to my abuser if I told the whole story to someone.

When I shared my trauma from the beginning to the end of everything I remember, the school counselor I trusted believed me and got me the help I needed to heal. 

It felt like my blood ran cold when the truth came out and then my mom found out about it from someone else and I confessed the truth to her.

This experience caused me to feel guilty, ashamed, hypervigilant, and blame myself. I thought to myself, “I have feelings for this person.” “Why would this person do this?” “What did I do to deserve it?” 

These thoughts stuck with me for two years until I now realize that my experience can’t define me and I deserve better.

In 2020, when quarantine began, I felt so isolated and disconnected from the world. Months later, when the school opened again, I developed social anxiety disorder (SAD). 

I started to feel a lack of confidence in my appearance and I couldn’t look people in the eyes or have a conversation without anxiety creeping in. It was my sophomore year, and my mental state impacted my education. I was afraid and embarrassed to ask for extra help with my school work, work in small class groups, communicate, and connect with others in class.

When my post-traumatic stress (PTS) started to develop, I felt something that I’d never felt before in my life. I started having vivid nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks that were constantly bringing back the trauma.

I wanted to say something to someone, but I was afraid of what would happen to my abuser. I decided that I would try to receive closure from my abuser before I took a big step toward healing. 

Then on the week of my abuser’s birthday in August 2021, it got to the point where I had to get the truth out to someone. During the summer of 2021, I started to talk about my experience with a good friend and still didn’t want anyone to know who abused me.

When my mom first suspected something and asked me if someone had touched me, I denied it. She could tell that I lied and tried to cover up the story.

My trauma bond made me feel like I had no control over my feelings towards my perpetrator and I did anything to not cause trouble and do anything for that person. 

My mom would do anything to protect me and my siblings and that was the part that terrified me. The addiction I had to post-traumatic stress was like there was no escape, I was emotionally trapped with my heart constantly being punched.

Then, my mom found out the truth from someone else by receiving a phone call and I had a feeling in my gut that she received horrific news. This was on the same day when I told my entire trauma experience to my high school counselor, which was a frightening occurrence that I carried.

My mom was on the phone being secretive of who was on the phone and I knew who it was. I was just as terrified as opening up to the officer who got involved. She talked to me in my room alone with furious behavior.

I was then getting help to work towards my healing journey. I was vulnerable and open to work on recovering from my mental illnesses, I wanted to not feel what I was feeling anymore.

I learned trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy to guide me by learning about the experience. I learned to let go and move forward with time. It was a lot of hell that I kept pushing through and I am proud to be where I am today.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

In June 2022, I decided to get on medication for my anxiety and social anxiety disorder. I have always been big on self-care when my mental health hits rock bottom. 

Being on medication after a few weeks showed a difference in my thinking with social situations. I started to see that I shouldn’t care what people think, I am a loyal and caring person, and I can find people who accept me after two years of insecurity.

This doesn’t mean that I am considering that others should get on medication to overcome a mental disorder, I never depended on it for my PTSD. We all have our own ways of healing.

As my post-traumatic stress showed unexpectedly, I never turned to substances as a coping mechanism. Instead, I needed to get it out by writing about the experience or telling someone about it. 

In October 2021, I remember myself thinking how I didn’t wanna keep living in pain and fear, I then was in counseling for the first time after I opened up about my sexual abuse.

I received a great education and healthy coping mechanisms to help me get through the dark times.

As months and then two years have gone, I kept educating myself to find answers. Today, I have healed from this tragedy by giving it my best to prioritize my healing journey with time.

With the support I got and educating myself, I feel relief that I am seeing change in my personal journey. 

When I was depressed for a year, I didn’t think I would realize that I needed to let go and realize that it was an experience that was temporary. 

This was something I never felt. I then learned that change is what challenges us. I know that I wouldn’t change my experiences that have led me to a positive change.

I am still learning how to live a better life by rebuilding relationships and learning to make new ones. I want to improve my self-awareness and rebuild my self-confidence.

With me knowing that I struggle with anxious attachment, I can dig deep into navigating how to heal and become a better version of myself.

I feel so proud of who I’ve become, I’m so grateful for my support system, even my mom. She has always been by my side and did whatever she could to support me.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I started researching my symptoms of depression, wondering why I was filled with emptiness inside, and why I had dreams about someone that I thought cared for me.

I would listen to YouTube videos and go into therapy to help me understand why I was taken advantage of and how I can overcome this battle.

Journaling has been my best friend, I get my thoughts out by writing what I’m feeling. 

I found that digging into my trauma by writing down questions to ask myself about the experience. This helped me get a better understanding of my emotions.

What really helped me with my anxiety and depression was talking to my school counselors and my amazing friend who supported me. 

I talked to people I trust to get my thoughts out when they hit rock bottom. I learned to make myself a priority by doing simple tasks at home like chores to not dwell on my depression.

I can’t recall a lot of when I was depressed, I just remember the time it started and when there were darker times.

If I would go back to talk to my younger self, I would tell her not to blame herself. These feelings are temporary and you are growing every day.

For my severe generalized anxiety, I would make myself a priority. I stick to self-care routines that have helped me. 

For my routine, journal when thoughts get to me, I have an exercise routine, and I eat healthy. I feel like this routine has made a positive impact on my well-being along with counseling.

My social anxiety was improved by medication for the most part. I used to feel so insecure I couldn’t talk to people without choking.

It also started to make me feel in a low mood, almost like I was depressed but without wanting to cry.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

When I was back in school in 2020, I was at home sitting in the living room, and one of my best friends, who is like a big brother to me, had me open up to him about my depression I remember him saying how he can relate to what I was feeling.

I was relieved to express what I was holding in for a while. We were in high school together for a few years and our friendship is still a close bond.

I trust him when I need support in any situation. He is empathetic and compassionate.

For my post-traumatic stress, I decided to talk about my symptoms with the same friend.

I was afraid of mentioning my abuser because if my mom found out, she would go into full protective mode. During this time, I had feelings towards my perpetrator like I cared deeply for the abuser, feeling stuck in a trauma bond.

My friend has been supportive and trustworthy to me. I told him that two years ago, I started to realize that I was touched inappropriately by someone and I get vivid nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks.

I also talked to my uncle about the situation in the same way as I talked to my friend by not giving too much detail. I then told my junior history teacher that I was abused and that year was very emotionally hard for me. 

My history teacher supported me when I needed to vent. It was so terrifying to talk about the fact that I was molested. I went for weeks without telling my friend or uncle who my perpetrator was. I just wanted the nightmares and flashbacks to end.

I was not comfortable talking to my mom about my mental health journey when it took a toll, she would come at me with tough love, like I’m not supposed to feel this way.

She once said that I can’t keep thinking this way with a hard tone because she doesn’t want to see me hurting inside. I would talk to my aunt, who is like my second mom. 

She listens and knows what advice to give when I am struggling. I am overall grateful that I got the support and help I deserved to help me grow. I am vulnerable and I have been since I was a kid.

I was raised to be open and honest about my health and emotional state. My mom would always be asking how I was feeling due to my medical history.

I was angry and would lash out when I had to leave my father so young. I was at the age where I didn’t understand the reasons. My mom would always be by my side trying to be strong for me when my medical complications were bad.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I want others to know that this won’t last forever. You have to fight and give it your all, don’t give up. Time is everything.

Today, I can look back on my journey and that it was worth it. It made me who I am today. I am stronger and aware that the world isn’t perfect. 

What we go through is a challenge for us to decide whether to give it all or nothing. If I were to talk to my younger self, I would say “You are not to blame and I am so proud of how far you’ve come. You can’t be so hard on yourself.” 

This mental health journey has made me discover good outcomes in my life. I can see 14-year-old Natalia wasn’t aware of her surroundings because she never should have faced tragedies that no kid deserves. 

She never saw this kind of behavior before and liked the attention that was given. I wish I could have realized I am not less than I am enough. Go easy on yourself and take it one day at a time.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Ted Talks became inspiring to me. This was helpful to me because people came to talk about their own experiences and share advice for those who could relate

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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